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Why health should be the major general election battleground in Scotland, but it strangely isn't

Story by Joseph Anderson


Spiralling waiting lists, dangerous accident-and-emergency (A&E) conditions and an ongoing vacancy crisis are continuing to plague NHS Scotland – if anything is to get better, then health should be this general election’s major battleground. Key figures from the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) and Scottish Care have already been calling for health secretary Neil Gray to make reforms to the way the NHS is run and funded. Now the coming election should provide a public debate on what voters are prepared to tolerate.


Chief among their concerns is the ability to retain staff in the ailing healthcare system, which is struggling to recruit and retain amidst low morale, incredibly harsh working conditions and disputes over sub-inflationary pay rises.


Scotland’s NHS is experiencing an intense amount of pressure due to staffing. There is an immense Covid backlog to work through, which requires serious resources to tackle, and a lack of staff is causing congestion at each stage of a patient’s journey through Scotland’s hospitals.


Like most western democracies, the welfare state has not kept up with ageing populations. People are now living for decades post-retirement and a falling birth rate means there are not enough working age people to pay taxes in order to pay for their healthcare.


Health executives say making a career in medicine more attractive, which we can safely assume means ‘more lucrative’, would go a long way to addressing the vacancy crisis, as well as encouraging post-Brexit immigration to Scotland.


But the question of how to fund an ageing population will continue to crop up during this election cycle, and rightly so – the number of Scottish patients aged 65 and over, who are far more likely to need medical assistance than other age groups, has increased by 19.3 per cent since 2013.


According to the Scottish Government’s 2021 ‘A Scotland for the Future’ report, an ageing population is leading to a more economically-inactive one.


The report reads: “For Scotland, how our population is ageing is important not only in the context of having sufficient numbers of people of working age to fulfil business requirements for workers and the overall health of the economy, but also for the Fiscal Framework agreement with the UK, where Scotland's budget is dependent on its tax performance relative to the rest of the UK.


“Despite the many benefits of an age diverse workforce these older and ageing demographics can impact on Scotland's labour market performance as inactivity due to poor health is more common among older ages.


"For example, although ‘long-term sick’ as a reason for inactivity accounts for 6.6 per cent of the inactive population of 16-24 year olds, this rises to 38.4 per cent of inactive 50-64 year olds.”


Scotland’s age timebomb has been conspicuously absent from healthcare debate so far. Hopefully politicians start putting forth ideas on how to solve the problem, rather than continuing to manage the decline.


Reference: The Scotsman Newspaper. 06/24